Being referred to as a "Returned Missionary" has to be on the list of weird things of being home from a mission, but I wouldn't say it's the weirdest. It's so great to be with family, see old friends, re connect with those I taught in my old areas and to generally try to establish a routine (which so far has been unsuccessful due to the random events and family activities that have been going on), but there are plenty of adjustments to make.
For a brief recap of the week...
I couldn't sleep the whole plane ride home. Elder VanWagoner and I somehow sat next to each other on every single plane ride for over 20 hours and both listened to the other talk the other's ear off about the mission. I had a nice discussion with a cool French man at the Seattle airport who spoke 5 languages and was Greek Orthodox (which made me want to scream "I know your religion because of My Big Fat Greek Wedding!" but I didn't). The reality of coming home didn't really set in the first few plane rides, but the culture shock sure did. American's are just so rich, big, and mean. Or, those were my impressions after living 18 months in a country of small, malnourished, golden hearted people. I stepped of the plane in Utah and suddenly felt like I had just left everything worth having in the Philippines and almost turned around and tried to get back on the plane. Some lady must have noticed my dazed look and shell-shocked body language, and she asked me where I was trying to go. She directed Elder Van and I to the escalators and I had a heart-stopping moment as I saw my family on the ground floor of the airport. I proceeded to argue with Elder Van, trying to make him go down the stairs before me, because I certainly was not going to be first. I don't know what hit me- I just knew that the moment I saw my family, the finish line would be all too close, and I wasn't ready for it to be done. But of course, instinct eventually overcame. I practically ran down the stairs and threw myself at my mom and cried, because that's just what you do, right? We took the obligatory pictures and generally basked in the joy of being reunited. There's nothing quite like 18 months apart to make you appreciate your family. Unless you're an Elder serving for 2 years, I guess.
Walking into my house all I could keep saying was, "We're so rich. America is so stinking rich." I've since come to accept that the blessings we so often take for granted here in this country does not mean we are better than others- just that we have the opportunity to bless other's lives, because we have the means to do so. (But I still think everyone is rich. And I love that I can drink out of any water tap I want to.)
Being released and taking off the name tag was probably the hardest thing I've had to do up to this point of being home (9 days now.) Opening my Book of Mormon is what gives me comfort, because even though I don't wear the tag anymore, I feel the same familiar peace of the Holy Ghost when I read it.
The following night (since I apparently wasn't in the furthest possible stage of shock) Megan surprised me with the special dinner and the Europe tickets which could not have been a bigger shock. (With coming home combined with the news of Europe, I'm surprised I didn't lose a couple of my 5 senses. The excitement is a little too much to handle.)
Some of the hard things about being home are all the usuals: adjusting to another schedule, being ice cold ALL of the time, not having a companion, speaking correct English, and all the usual things you hear RM's struggle with. My family is still trying to get used to the weird quirks and habits I picked up on the mission, and sometimes communication is a struggle and ends up in lots of giggles. Of course there are a lot of perks to being home and seeing loved ones. But I guess the new and most daunting challenge I currently face is to take all the things I learned in such a... different environment that the mission is, and apply them in my new ecosystem (for lack of a better term).
Even just the first day I was home, it was like I could feel the tentacles of my old self and my old world tangling around me and inviting me in, to return to what I used to be and used to do. This morning, I was listening to a talk I felt prompted to put on back from conference of 2009. It's by Elder Dale G Renlund, entitled, "Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change". He explains in this talk the process of literal heart transplants: what happens in the body, what patients who receive a new heart are required to do and how it can be protected. He says:
"In each heart transplant recipient, the patient’s own body recognizes the new, lifesaving heart as “foreign” and begins to attack it. Left unchecked, the body’s natural response will reject the new heart, and the recipient will die. Medicines can suppress this natural response, but the medications must be taken daily and with exactness. Furthermore, the condition of the new heart must be monitored. Occasional heart biopsies are performed wherein small pieces of heart tissue are removed and then examined under a microscope. When signs of rejection are found, medications are adjusted. If the rejection process is detected early enough, death can be averted.